A Book Club of One

Reading for professional development is one of the most powerful steps you can take to advance your career… And one of the easiest!  (You can read more here.)

But sometimes it’s tough to get a group of people together to start a book club.  Maybe your workplace isn’t conducive to forming a reading group, or there just aren’t that many coworkers interested in committing their time to reading a book together.  Perhaps your goals are different from your peers, or you want to take your career in a different direction.  Whatever the situation, don’t let a lack of reading buddies discourage you from reading yourself.

There’s actually something quite liberating about reading solo.  You don’t have to worry about organizing meetings or preparing for a discussion, and there’s no pressure to read on a deadline.  And it’s very easy to get started. As it turns out, many of the steps you’d take to start a professional reading group are the same even if you’re just beginning to read for professional development on your own.

It might help to think of yourself as a Book Club of One and approach it the same way you’d start a book club with others.

To begin, think about why you’re reading.  Is it simple curiosity on a subject, or are you reading toward a specific goal, like advancing into a leadership role, changing your career path, or improving a particular skill?  If you know your why, it’ll be much easier to focus your reading.

Which brings us to the next step: figuring out what to read.  This is where the Internet is your friend!  Search the usual suspects — Google, Amazon, Twitter — using keywords related to your interests.  Or make a more personal connection by visiting your local bookstore or library and asking the friendly folks there for advice.  Industry publications — like newsletters, magazines, and journals — can be a valuable resource for reading recommendations too.  And you can always check out the Pro Book Club Twitter feed, which is regularly updated with links to reading lists on a variety of topics.

Now here is where your experience will diverge a bit from reading along with a book club.  If you were participating in a professional reading group, you’d probably have a group discussion of whatever you read.  But as a Book Club of One, how can you engage with the reading in a meaningful way without the group discussion?  I recommend two things:

1.   As you read, have a notebook and pen handy and copy down passages from the book that are particularly interesting or meaningful to you.  Writer/artist Austin Kleon believes that the act of physically writing down quotes from a book helps the reader engage more deeply with the text.  You also end up with a notebook full of intriguing, inspirational ideas you can refer back to later and investigate more deeply.

2.   Back to the Internet!  I often like to search for complementary material to explore along with whatever I’m reading.  For example, if the author of your book gave a TED talk or was a guest on a podcast, find it online and watch or listen.  These types of supplementary materials often add a depth to your understanding of the reading beyond just the text itself.

Finally, share your reading experience.  This step is totally optional, but can be very rewarding as another way to engage with the material.  Social media is a great place to share your thoughts on your latest read: Tweet about it, Instagram a picture of the book, or post for your friends on Facebook.  Even if you’re not into social media, reading is great for interpersonal interaction.  The next time someone at lunch asks you how it’s going, you automatically have something interesting to talk about!  And who knows, maybe you’ll even inspire someone else to begin reading.

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